Monday, February 28, 2011

My First List for Parent of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

When I start working with a new child and that child's parents, here is a list of goals that I usually try to hep parents accomplish within the first six months.

Daily Life Changes:
  1. Find and learn to create good learning environments. Many environments compete with you and win your child's attention when you are trying to play or interact with your child.  Some children can pay attention to a parent while siblings are running around and grandpa is on the computer, but those children do not have autism. If need be, empty out a room so there is nothing but you, your child and perhaps a bed in the room so that you can really play with your child.  Sometimes the best learning environment is in the bath, in the car, on a horse, on a tractor, in a swing, in the high chair, snuggled in bed in a dark room.  Think about where your child seems to learn and interact best and take advantage of those places and situations.
  2. Schedule playtime at home.  Social play will help a child learn language, emotional regulation skills, cognitive skills, motor skills, and social skills.  But it is not always easy to engage a child with autism in social play.  That is why I have dedicated a whole website to this topic.  But, even if you learn how to engage your child in play, you will  still need to schedule time to do it or it won't happen.
  3. Structure Daily Living Routines so that they are learning experiences.   Whatever your child's language level, the things that happen repeatedly, day after day, week after week, can become the most important learning activities of the week if you structure them even a little bit for learning.  Take a list of five activities that you want to structure to your child's Speech Language Pathologist and ask for help in creating a language learning opportunity out of these five new daily living activities.  Example: Mealtime, bedtime, bath time, grocery shopping, weekly visit to grandma's house.
  4. Get support and help.  Explore every possible resource that you have in order to get support or help.  Some of the less used but often available sources of help include: Parent Helpers--children who are between the ages of 10 and 17 who are willing to play with your child a few hours a week while you are there.  Extended relatives and friends--who might be willing to help in any number of ways if asked.  For example, they might be willing to respond with comments if you set up a private blog for your child so that he or she has an audience while learning to communicate this way. Someone in your family who is musical might come and do a music hour with your child each week.  An artist in your family might draw with your child.  Religious community--your religious community might include people who will do the things mentioned above that extended family members do.  They also might provide childcare for your child so that you can attend services or study groups that would provide you with fortitude and strength.  They might let you and your spouse get in a date night once a month.
  5. Incorporate movement and sensory activities into your child's life.  Many parents have found a way to safely add a swing inside the house, a mini trampoline inside the house, a place where it is okay and safe for a child to climb inside and outside the house.  A large box where a child can hide is an important sensory option. A daily walk is, I think, less likely to be scheduled for a beloved child than for a beloved pet but this is only because we don't think about how important exercise, fresh air and vitamin D is for the child.  Weekly swim sessions at the YMCA, play at the park, hikes in the woods--any or all of these activities are a means of helping your child's brain develop. 
Tomorrow:  My list of important skills that you need to develop in order to become an effective communication partner for your child.

1 comment:

Rorey Risdon said...

This is such a great post. As a special education teacher I often find myself helping families by giving them some strategies for working with children at home. I have posted some items on specific strategies, but this is going to be a wonderful resource to share with parents. Thanks!